Stoke City’s season didn’t get off to the best possible start on Sunday as they were convincingly beaten by Leeds United at Elland Road. Can you give us a little idea of how that went for The Potters?
After ten years in the Premier League and a summer to dwell on coming back to the Championship, I think everybody was full of optimism and excitement, but it was safe to say that went within about 20 minutes. It was a bit of a wake-up call, really - a reminder of the intensity of the Championship. Fingers crossed it was just a bit of a kick up the backside and that’s all we need to get going from here on in.
Do you think they underestimated the difficulty of the Championship at all, having been away for such a long time?
Gary Rowett has been suggesting that, for some players who haven’t played in the Championship, it was more of a wake-up call that an underestimation. It’s just a reminder that they can’t take anything for granted and you have to earn everything, though they had perhaps underestimated the different qualities you need for the Championship; the battling and the tempo of the game, more than the quality. Taking that into account, you’d have to say that’s why they were beaten by Leeds on the opening weekend.
How has Gary Rowett been received by the Stoke fans since taking over from Paul Lambert at the bet365 Stadium this summer?
He’s been received really well by the fans so far. Stoke have been drifting for at least two years and it’s accepted that it was a deserved relegation in May. It’s been good to have somebody come in who seems like he has a real plan and knows what is required in this division – he’s a real figurehead and everybody is following his lead. He says the right things and he has made some good transfers so all the elements are there, it’s just a case of whether he can deliver.
The squad Gary Rowett has at his disposal appears to be one of the best in the Championship on paper - which player do you think will prove most influential this season?
It was a really key decision to sign Joe Allen to a new contract in the summer. When the final whistle went at the end of last season, you were pretty sure that Xherdan Shaqiri would be off, there’d be a couple of others who were attracting interest and Allen would be one of those that you’d think could probably walk into most squads in the bottom half of the Premier League and perhaps pushing up towards the top six. He’s really well thought of, really energetic and his commitment and desire to repay the club and take responsibility for what happened last year is heart warming, really. From the lows of last spring, his new contract, along with Gary Rowett’s appointment and the signing of a couple of players was the start of the optimism for Stoke. Benik Afobe and Tom Ince are proven in the Championship so there’s a good core in there who can take the club with them over the next few months.
After the 5-1 opening day win Brentford will no doubt be full of confidence - what are you expecting from Dean Smith’s men?
We are panicked, really, because we know it’s not going to be easy at all. Brentford are a technically strong and powerful team who know all about the Championship and I’d certainly expect them to finish around the Play-Offs. Stoke really need to show their mettle and it is going to be a real test. If there was anyone taking anything for granted last Sunday, that was a wake-up call and a defeat this weekend would be a double blow.
How is Gary Rowett likely to set up for Brentford’s visit this weekend?
They were playing 4-3-3 through pre-season but that switched into something resembling a 4-2-3-1 at half-time against Leeds. It will be a variation on one of those two, certainly with four at the back, and Ashley Williams will be pushing for his debut after coming in from Everton. Joe Allen will start but Sunday’s result has thrown up the dilemma of who will partner him in midfield and how that is set up in the middle. That didn’t quite work at the weekend so that’s where we are expecting things to change.
They’ve been widely tipped as favourites for the title, but what’s the aim for Stoke this season?
It has to be promotion; there’s no point saying otherwise because this is their chance. They’ve probably got the biggest wage bill in the division and the most expensively assembled squad because they’ve really thrown some cash at it. They have a manager who knows all about the division so this is their best chance. If you can’t do it when everything is going in your favour, you are going to be struggling. On the flip side, they’ve had a losing mentality over the last 24 months or more and turning that around, while keeping most of the players who’ve been losing games, is probably the biggest challenge. On paper it’s very strong but they need to get some wins under their belt to re-gain the confidence they’ve been missing.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a 2-1 win.
Tickets for Saturday's trip to Stoke City are now on General Sale, priced at £25 adults, £19 seniors, £15 Under-16s, and £12 Under-11s. Get your tickets online
*Be aware, we have been advised by Stoke that there will be NO pay on the day and any Brentford fans without tickets will not be able to buy to enter the ground. Advanced sales end at 4pm on Friday with matchday collections available on the day at the Bet 365 Stadium.